Abolish racist language

Words matter. We are committed to creating an antiracist culture by using language that champions equity and inclusion. Here are guidelines to help you spot and remove hurtful language.

Our principles

People come first.

Our decisions on racist language shouldn’t be purely intellectual. That’s a white privilege. In any rationale, the degradation of people is more important than the degradation of content. Our content should not hurt people.

We take the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color into account.

When basing our decisions to use or not use words, we empathize with communities that have experienced disparate harm to improve how we communicate for all. We follow our Intuit value of Stronger Together.

If it’s harmful to one group, it’s harmful to all groups.

People sit at the intersection of overlapping social categories. Some groups experience oppression in ways that others don’t. If any one group is harmed by a term or phrase, we don’t use it. We believe everyone is better off that way.

We distinguish intent from impact.

We don’t defend choices based on our intended use of language. Well-intentioned choices can still cause harm. It’s not up to us to judge if or how much a word harms, but to believe people who tell us it does. We choose the most inclusive language for positive impact.

We strive for content that’s clear, concise, and accurate.

Many harmful terms are rooted in racist and anti-Black metaphors. They also don’t clearly convey meaning. We look for clearer words that are not only more inclusive, but also easier to understand.

We don’t use black, white, dark, or light as metaphors.

Language that puts a positive connotation on white/light and a negative or mysterious one on black/dark reinforces anti-Black and colorist stereotypes. We choose more direct language to get our point across. We only use these words as literal visual descriptors (such as dark mode), not value judgments.

We’re inclusive of other cultures, but we don’t appropriate them.

Intuit’s content doesn’t use language appropriated from groups that experience oppression. Black Vernacular English (BVE) is one example. We use language that speaks to everyone without taking away from underrepresented cultures. 

We’re building an evolving toolkit to remove harmful language.

Words are used in a nuanced way. When fostering an antiracist culture, we need to model the environment we hope to create. This involves using language that enhances the lives of others and moving away from language and phrases that exploit or shame people.

There are no shortcuts to building an antiracist culture.

Unlearning racist language requires the work of everyone. We have a word list that guides us in removing harmful language, but this list isn’t prescriptive, and we don’t rely on it as an exhaustive resource. Instead, we commit to challenging our thinking to make sustainable, long-term changes.

Determining if a word is harmful

How do you know if a word is racist?

Part of engaging with antiracist language means using your own judgement. But sometimes it can be difficult to guide yourself through the decision-making process. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

Examples

  • Is the language working metaphorically?
  • If so, what are the implications behind the metaphor? Does it place a positive connotation on whiteness and a negative one on something else (usually blackness)?
  • Does the language imply “otherness” and exclusivity?
  • Can it be substituted for something clearer or more literal? (The answer is often yes.) Think about what the term actually means and describe that.
  • Are there any groups of people who could be harmed by this? Who and how so? Thinking about who is affected deepens your understanding of antiracism.
  • Does the language make you uncomfortable, even if you can’t quite articulate the reason?

Specific word guidance

These are terms with racist roots that we are moving away from at Intuit. This list is evolving and by no means exhaustive.



  • unethical hacker
  • unethical hacking
  • black hat

This term enforces the “white is good” and “black is bad” paradigm. Don’t use it.

  • block or deny (for verbs)
  • denylist (for nouns), depending on context
  • blacklist

This term enforces the “white is good” and “black is bad” paradigm. Don’t use it.

  • confusing
  • unclear
  • black box

In general, avoid metaphorical terms where black means mysterious, shady, or bad and white means good, accepted, or true.

  • lunch and learn
  • lunch meeting
  • brown bag

The term refers to intra-racial discrimination from the segregation era.

  • easy 
  • simple
  • cakewalk

This term refers to plantation owners who held contests in which enslaved people competed for a cake. Later, it was popularized through racist minstrel shows.

  • gather folks together
  • unite
  • circle the wagons

This phrase is based on racist notions of Indigenous peoples.

  • win
  • overcome
  • defeat
  • conquer

This term has ties to colonization. Be mindful of how the idea of dominance—often of a people or place by force—shows up in words like this.

  • deceptive design patterns
  • deceptive design
  • deceptive UX
  • dark UX

Avoid metaphorical terms where dark means mysterious, shady, or bad. These reinforce research findings that suggest people have a tendency to perceive someone with darker skin as more likely to commit an immoral act.

  • legacy
  • exempt
  • grandfathered

The grandfather clause originally described policies exempting illiterate white people from discriminatory Jim Crow voting laws.

  • take the lead
  • take over
  • hold down the fort

This phrase is rooted in racism and originated from settlers and soldiers building forts in and on indigenous lands to forcefully claim and colonize them.

  • main (noun)
  • primary (noun)
  • source (noun)
  • ace (verb)
  • master

In some contexts, it connotes a hierarchical relationship of control and ownership. In any form, it’s connected to the idea of dominance and is a harmful term that comes with a history of oppression.

  • primary/secondary
  • master/slave

This shows up in engineering code and documentation. It’s problematic for obvious reasons.

  • crowd
  • rowdy group
  • peanut gallery

This phrase originally referred to the cheapest section of seats during the vaudeville era in the U.S. In the segregated South, seats in the back or upper balcony levels were mostly reserved for Black people.

  • meeting
  • chat
  • brainstorm
  • powwow

A powwow has cultural and spiritual significance for many Indigenous communities. It’s not a cute term for a meeting.

  • priority list
  • special case
  • replacement list
  • UI annotations
  • redline, redlining

In design, redlining refers to marking changes, providing specs, or highlighting priorities. But the term originated from systemic segregation and discrimination, when financial institutions would draw red lines on maps around “risky” neighborhoods (predominantly Black and Latino) where people were deemed more likely to default on a mortgage.

  • betrayed
  • sold down the river

This phrase originated in the Mississippi region of the U.S. during slave trading days. Enslaved people who caused trouble were sold from the northern slave states into the much harsher conditions on plantations in the lower Mississippi. It’s not only rooted in racism, but it’s just unclear to begin with—like most idioms.

  • kindred spirit
  • spirit animal

A spirit guide or Spirit Helper is sacred and represents a larger spiritual culture within Indigenous and other cultures. It’s not a reference to your inner personality.

  • small team
  • specialized team
  • mission team
  • name the team(s) individually
  • tiger team

This term originated from “tiger force,” which was a WW2 bomber squad that bombed Japan.

  • friends
  • team
  • community
  • tribe

A tribe is not just a group of people. Words like this have important meaning in Indigenous and other cultures, and should be used mindfully in casual conversation.

  • top-notch care
  • meticulous attention
  • premium
  • VIP service
  • white glove

White glove refers to top-notch service. This term is unclear to begin with, but more importantly, it has ties to racist minstrel shows.

  • security researcher
  • ethical hacker
  • ethical hacking
  • white hat

This term enforces the “white is good” and “black is bad” paradigm.

  • custom branding
  • white label

Even though the term white label may not be directly assigning a value judgment to color, it’s doing so indirectly. Additionally, the term is unclear and not easily translatable.

  • trust
  • allow (verb)
  • allow list (for nouns)
  • whitelist

This term enforces the “white is good” and “black is bad” paradigm.

  • disparage

Or check the thesaurus.

  • denigrate

This word means “to blacken” and further perpetuates the “black is bad” stereotype.

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